Saturday, June 04, 2005


Big brother has nothing on the cultural demigods that permeate American life. The fact that many businesses now afflict patrons with loud, grating, hippity-rap music is a testament to the power wielded by media mavens. At popular restaurants these piped-in projections are often so intrusive, conversation becomes impossible. Indeed, the din feeds on itself as hearing-impaired diners who passively accept this aural assault shout across the table like hikers communicating over a vast chasm.

Almost everywhere--airports, auto repair centers, high school basketball games, barber shops--electronic devices broadcast sound waves crafted by virtual conductors who, for the last four decades, have decimated civility and murdered vocal restraint. (Does anyone whisper anymore? And if the technique were employed, could listeners decipher the words?)

Not even the nationwide bookseller near me is exempt from this pervasive tribute to the deities of distraction. Occasionally, refined selections--like sheltered eddies by a raging river--interrupt the persistent percussive pounding. But even this "background" music is too loud. And the respite is brief. The dissonance commences again--punctuated by extended cell-phone conversations involving parties whose anvils and stirrups have doubtless been damaged by prior abuse.

If one has the misfortune of sitting within fifty feet of this store’s juvenile section, the high-pitched screams of unrestrained brats will be added to the mix. A menagerie of wild beasts don’t create the cacophony generated by these homo non-sapiens romping through an establishment once devoted to intellectual reflection. When even bookstores become purveyors of mind-numbing clamor, you know you’re in trouble.

What once would have raised howls of protest, is now meekly endured by milquetoasts too cowed to glare in unison at clueless parents or to inform the manager that his "music" is irritating and offensive. Instead, customers dutifully genuflect toward the Huns who shroud our sensibilities with emotional smog. These SNL, MTV, Leno-Letterman barbarians no longer pound at the gate. Rather, they own the portal key--the means of communication.

Incessant noise, crude humor, and shallow sensuality fills our public space--flooding into the street from boxes that blare similar messages in private homes. It is a fitting backdrop for lives devoid of depth--for nose-pierced pop-cultural clones, mall-rat rebels, and 9-to-5 commuters engrossed in the permutations of celebrity justice.

Amid this raucous decadence, tolerance is a one-way street. Principled individuals are asked to defer to the sensibilities of those who find the word "Christmas" offensive. On the other hand, when crude, insulting, and noxious material is broadcast in public, these same individuals are expected to "be open" to the expression of "alternate perspectives". In such a society, being a good sport is synonymous with moral cowardice. After all, only those with a conscience (or those with hearing intact) are obliged to leave their "hangups" at home.

Mel Brooks, as the 2000-year-old man, once made this reply to Carl Reiner’s question about the secret to planetary peace: "If everyone in the world ... would play ... a violin, we would be bigger and better than Mantovani." The effect of filling our ears (and souls) with virulent electronic emissions has had the opposite result--producing a culture where reflection, tranquility, and considerateness are increasingly rare.

This debilitating trend will only be reversed when Americans summon the courage to demand decorum in public. Each intervention creates momentum toward a decent society and makes it more likely that frustrated fence-sitters will also take up the challenge of calling brutishness exactly what it is.

The project starts with you.

1 comment:

Dr. Luke Van Tessel said...

I speak 20 decibels louder the week after every Greek picnic. At least I'm not as bad as the neighborhood's ineffectual mother of three, whose Jerry Springeresque pleadings to get her children out of the street can be heard through double-insulated glass.